Black Monday came one day early this year.
By the end of the final Sunday of the regular season, six NFL head coaches already either had been fired or had resigned. Other head-coaching positions could open in the coming weeks, but for now, here’s a list of the six available openings, ranked from least desirable to most.
6. Buffalo Bills
As general manager Doug Whaley’s news conference Monday illustrated, the Bills organization is an absolute mess right now. Buffalo also has questions at quarterback givenTyrod Taylor’s uncertain future with the team and it plays in the AFC East, a division that’s been dominated by the New England Patriots for the last decade-and-a-half.
5. San Francisco 49ers
Sure, the 49ers were terrible this season, and they might have the least talented roster in the NFL. But they get the edge over the Bills because they’ll be replacing both their coach and their GM, and that type of full reset could be appealing to a prospective head coach.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
There’s some talent in Jacksonville, and the Jags will add to it with a top-five pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Owner Shad Khan is known as a reasonable and patient guy, and given the lack of quality competition in the miserable AFC South, his team’s path to a playoff berth should be easier than most. The big question here is whether Blake Bortles can develop into a true franchise quarterback. He certainly didn’t look like one this season, badly regressing after a promising 2015. Bortles reportedly played much of the year with a partially separated throwing shoulder, though, which could explain some of his struggles.
3. Los Angeles Rams
If you’re a coach who believes Jared Goff will be a stud quarterback at the NFL level, L.A. is a good place to be. The Rams have young, exciting players elsewhere in running back Todd Gurley and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, will move into a beautiful new facility in 2018, and although they completely self-destructed down the stretch, they played teams close for much of the season. Whichever coach takes this job must be a Goff fan, however, since he’ll likely be stuck with last year’s No. 1 overall pick for at least a few more seasons and because Los Angeles traded its 2017 first- and third-round picks to move up and draft him last year.
2. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers should have finished much better than 5-11 this season. They were ravaged by injuries — a staggering 18 players landed on injured reserve — and still led in the fourth quarter in six of those losses. San Diego will return impact players on both sides of the ball, including Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Melvin Gordon, Hunter Henry on offense and Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Jatavis Brown and Pro Bowler Casey Hayward on defense. That’s a pretty solid nucleus. The cons: The Chargers play in the loaded AFC West, and there’s no guarantee they’ll even be in San Diego next season.
1. Denver Broncos
This opening is unique on this list, since head coach Gary Kubiak was not fired, but rather retired for health reasons. The Broncos missed the playoffs this season and must take steps to improve their underwhelming offense, but Denver’s defense remains one of the most fearsome in the NFL. Whoever takes over for Kubiak has enough pieces in place to lead the defending Super Bowl champs back to the postseason in 2017, especially if either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch shows significant improvement under center. One important note: It would be the upset of the century if highly sought-after New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels took this job. McDaniels already had one stint as Denver’s head coach and enjoyed little success, going 11-17 over parts of two seasons.
Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images
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